Saturday, September 1, 2007

The 'Right Book at the Right Time' Reading Blitz

I have a problem. I admit it.

I have not been very good at keeping up with our reading lists on this blog. People here tend to read more than one book at once, for one thing. And they finish books and start them with a good deal more regularity than I change the reading list.

So I have a problem.
But it's a nice problem to have!

And another nice thing that happens with our reading occasionally is serendipity! You know, when you find exactly the right book--the one you were longing for--at exactly the right time. And you find it even though you never even knew that such a book existed.

I had that happen the other day. I was surfing Amazon, looking for some Peterson's guides that N. needs for his ongoing Kamana II studies. And there it was! First in the "recommended for you" list. The perfect book. Exactly what I needed. Exactly when I needed it.
A Wild Faith:
Jewish Ways into Wilderness,
Wilderness Ways into Judaism
by Rabbi Mike Comins, Founder of Torah Trek
I ordered it. Immediately. Without even reading the reviews. For some obscure reason, I had it shipped quickly. At the time I ordered it, I knew I wanted to read it because I am working on a presentation for the National Association of Gifted Children (NAGC) annual conference. The presentation is called:
I am the Coyote, I am the Deer:
Reaching for Global Connections Through Wilderness Awareness
I am doing the presentation as part of the Global Awareness Strand of NAGC. It is about our experience in developing empathy, ecological values and concern for justice in the larger world through N.'s wilderness studies and his wildlife rescue service projects. I wrote the proposal last April and it was accepted in May. It will be the first time I give a presentation for a national audience.
Gifted kids with AS do seem to have a strong sense of justice and fairness on the grand scale, but often do not have the empathy to apply this in more concrete situations. By finding a way to develop empathic thinking and acting, the AS kid not only learns content, but also the process of how to direct that sense of justice to work in their world, expanding their horizons and teaching empathy and the actions that show it.
The book arrived the other day. And itbecame more serendipidous at that moment, because I was in the middle of pondering why it is that, in modern Judaism, wilderness awareness is not generally viewed as an important value. After all, when I read the psalms, when I think about the desert experience, when I think about the worry that the ancient Israelites had about losing their direct connection to G-d when they ceased being desert wanderers and settled down in towns, then it seems odd that wilderness awareness is not felt to be a primary value. I know, I know, there are some good historical reasons for the loss of that sense of oneness with nature among the Jewish people. But still.
But when the book arrived I was actually feeling a mite annoyed about this lack of wilderness awareness among perfectly worthy Jews. I felt chastized because N.'s mitzvah projects consistently sound the same theme: ecology, the welfare of animals, and wilderness preservation. He just doesn't seem to get excited about raising money for more directly "Jewish" causes whose headquarters are located in Los Angeles or New York. And then "Brown" came pulling up and I had the book in my hands! Coincidence? Or G-d's way of remaining anonymous? Nu? Who knows. But I'll take it as the proverbial two-by-four.
I eagerly thumbed through the pages, as I like to do with an exciting new book, reading bits here and there, to find out what lies ahead when I settle down to the business of actually reading it page by page. And I read:
"Entering wilderness to experience G-d's presence is not an experience taken seriously by the major Jewish institutions in America or elsewhere..." (p. 4)
Then I read:
"...I have learned: most Jews who love wilderness know little of Judaism, and committed Jews know little of wilderness." (p. 5)
And finally I read:
"In the course of this book, we shall see how wilderness leads to Judaism...(and) conversely, how Judaism leads us to the wilderness--to absorb wilderness in deeper, more vibrant ways."
This was definitely a serendipity kind of moment. As they say in Brooklyn, "the tears stood in my eyes." The answer to my pondering, here in my hands. Ordered by me for a different reason, before the pondering even began. An everyday sort of miracle.

Another nice reading happening at our house is what we call a reading "blitz." Every now and then, we all get interested in reading as much as we can find about a certain topic or by a certain author. Often, we have read some of the books before, but we feel a real need to read them again.

Currently, we are having a Tom Brown, Jr. reading blitz. We have taken up reading his books. We have ordered some that are only available second hand. We have reserved some that we had read previously from the library. We went digging through boxes to find ones read long ago, that were packed for the move last year and not yet unpacked.

I think that this reading blitz was inspired by N.'s lively tales of his experiences at the Coyote Tracks experience. On the first night, Jon Young, who runs the Wilderness Awareness School, and who was taught by Tom Brown, Jr. spent an hour or so around the campfire, telling stories about how he met and was taught by Tom. Nate re-told the stories to us around the Shabbat table and when we were driving and when we were sitting out on the porch listening to the crickets. And that whet our appetites to re-read Tom's wisdom, and venture into writings by him that are new to us.

During reading blitzes, we tend to have lots of silence as we lounge about the living room, or sit at table or in our Andirondack rockers on the porch, turning pages. And then someone will say, "Oh, listen to this!" And that person then reads a profound paragraph or two, after which there is thoughtful silence often followed by lively conversation. During reading blitzes, the rule about not bringing books to the dinner table (books are always allowed at breakfast and lunch) is mainly honored in the breach.

Much learning happens by this informal reading and sharing. I think it is fair to say that I have learned more and enjoyed it more than in any class or reading group in which we have followed a set schedule and series of questions. I think I can speak for N. and Bruce and MLC about this as well. Anyway, we have fun! High energy, waving hands, and sparkling eyes kind of fun. The jokes! The stories! The arguments! We have great fun.

And oddly enough, N. just gave me another Tom Brown, Jr. book obtained at Page One, Too--a used bookstore. It's called Awakening Spirits. It is about the deep spiritual nature of the wilderness awareness teachings that Grandfather Stalking Wolf taught to Tom and Rick.

What's that sound I hear? Another two-by-four swishing through the air?


Nu? I think that the Eternal has become the 'Master of the Obvious!'

1 comment:

momof3feistykids said...

I love this post. It makes sense to me that He would choose to speak to someone like you (or me) who loves books by directing you to a book. You do a beautiful job of weaving together the intellectual, religious, and spiritual in your writing. I also enjoyed your thoughts on directing your gifted son with AS toward shaping his sense of justice into tangible acts. And as always I enjoy learning more about your faith. This comment sounds a little garbled. :-) But you know what I mean.